Starring Roselyn Sanchez, Alex Veadov, and Jason Cottle. Rated 14A.
Hollywood at least tried to dress up its military recruitment efforts with a story back in the Top Gun days, but Act of Valor sure isn’t interested in any of that hooey. With its first-person-shooter–style sequences of jihadists and other subhumans exploding in clouds of red grue, this movie—starring real-life U.S. navy SEALs, whoa!—is focused entirely on getting kids to drop the Xbox controller in favour of basic training.
As such, screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (300) dispenses with anything like dramatic convention, save for a sort of framing device involving the pregnant wife of one of the SEALs. But it’s only there to give us the post–9-11 equivalent of John Wayne’s words to little orphaned Hamchunk in The Green Berets: “You’re what this is all about.”
Instead, the film offers a binary moral universe of hyperadrenalized killing, advanced weaponry, and lots of voice-over bullshit about brotherhood and honour as the Bandito Platoon goes from rescuing a CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez—an actual actor) in Costa Rica to hunting down key figures in a plan to suicide bomb the shit out of America. It’s pretty stirring stuff if you’re not burdened with a conscience or a love of cinema.
There are a handful of jarring notes, as when the SEALs’ fearsome senior officer interrupts his interrogation of a captive to reassure him that he’ll be “treated humanely” (c’mon, no he won’t), and the assertion that a terrorist attack will destroy the U.S. economy is hilarious. (Isn’t that Wall Street’s job?)
Most of all, it’s hard to ignore the cheesily homoerotic feel to spec-ops jargon about “inserts” and “hot extracts”, all of it coming to a head (so to speak) when one hunky SEAL screams to another: “You took it in the face, bro—you’re a hard motherfucker!” For the record, he’s talking about a bullet, but subtext often has a mind of its own. Which brings us back to Top Gun, I guess.